The Rover Boys in the Air/Chapter 26
THE MOONLIT TRAIL
Once in the street the three Rover boys halted and looked at each other. The same thought was in the mind of each; should they follow the touring car on foot, or go back for the airship?
"We'll get the Dartaway!" cried Dick. "We can follow them so much more quickly that way."
At top speed they raced for the spot where they had left the biplane. They found the strange man on guard, smoking his pipe.
"We saw the barber," said Dick, "and now we are going after that touring car and the fellows in it. Much obliged for looking after the biplane," and he handed the man a silver half dollar.
"Thank you," said the man. "Want to catch 'em, eh?"
"Yes, they are rascals who ought to be in jail," answered Tom. And then, before the man could ask any more questions, the boys started up the engine and propellers and swept into the air once more.
The late moon had come up, and this light, added to that of the stars, made it possible for them to keep the road well in view. Over the town they swept and then over the church near the bridge. Then they commenced to follow the road leading to Plankville and Bulltown.
It must be confessed that all of the youths were deeply excited, and Tom and Sam looked to their pistols, to make certain that the weapons were ready for use. They felt that the rascals who had abducted Dora and Nellie in such a high-handed fashion would not give in without a struggle.
As they went on, Dick slowed down the engine, and ran closer and closer to the road.
"There is a sign and a big plank, closing the road!" cried Tom, presently. "And there is the bridge, just ahead."
Scarcely had he spoken when Dick shut off the engine entirely and volplaned to the broad roadway and only a short distance from the bridge. All looked around eagerly. Not a sign of a touring car could be seen.
"Maybe they made a mistake——" commenced Sam, when Dick, who was examining the ground, uttered a cry.
"Here are the tracks of the rubber tires!" exclaimed the eldest Rover boy. "See, they pushed the plank aside and steered right for the bridge!"
"But did they get over?" asked his brothers.
"I suppose so. Wait, I'll go over and see."
Lantern in hand, Dick crossed on the beams of the wooden bridge. On the opposite side he saw the same tracks of the tires in the dust and dirt.
"Yes, they came over!" he shouted.
"But the planking——" came from Tom.
"They must have thrown it into place to cross and then taken it up again, so that they couldn't be followed, that is, in a carriage, or an auto, or on horseback."
"Yes, but they can't stop a biplane!" cried Sam, eagerly. "And this must have taken time to do! We must be close behind them!"
"Let's get right after 'em!" put in Tom, and all three ran once more for the Dartaway, and soon the quick explosions of the motor sounded on the night air.
If the boys had been excited before, they were more so now, for they realized that the touring car at the best could be but a few miles away. Could they catch up to it before those running the machine had a chance to slip them in the darkness?
"They must have their lights lit," said Dick. "They'd not dare run without them. Look and see if you can't spot their headlights. Their taillight we smashed with a pistol shot."
On and on swept the biplane. As the late moon came up higher, the way became brighter, until they could distinguish the road below quite plainly. But nothing like a touring car came into view.
"They must have had more time than we thought, or else they ran mighty fast," remarked Dick, after several miles had been covered.
Presently they saw two bright lights coming towards them, down on the road. At once Dick shut off the power, and allowed the biplane to come down in the centre of the highway. Then Tom waved the lantern, and at the same time all three lads took hold of their pistols.
It was a runabout that was coming up, an old affair, carrying two men that looked like farmers.
"Hello, what's this, a hold-up?" cried one of the men. "By gum! if it ain't an airship!" he gasped, as his machine came to a standstill in front of the Dartaway.
"We'd like some information," said Dick, stepping forward and holding up the lantern. "We are looking for a big enclosed touring car that came this way. Did you meet it on the road?"
"A tourin' car? No, we didn't meet any kind o' an auto."
"None at all?"
"Nary a one," answered the second man.
"May I ask how far you've come?" went on Dick.
"We came from Plankville."
"How far is that?"
"About six miles."
"Are there any side roads between here and Plankville?"
"Plenty of 'em, but none good enough fer a car. Them that ain't sand is mud, an' deep mud, too. This is the only road in these parts fit for autoing."
"You are sure that car didn't go through Plankville? It was a big enclosed car, painted dark blue."
"I was sittin' on the hotel stoop for an hour before we came along an' there wasn't nary a car went through."
"Well, that car was on this road," said Tom. "It must have gone somewhere."
"I don't see where it could go," said the second man, and shook his head slowly. "All the side roads is terrible in these parts."
"Well, we are much obliged for the information," said Dick. "Wait, we'll soon have out biplane out of the way." And then he and his brothers wheeled it to one side, so the runabout could pass.
The men were curious to see the machine fly and remained while the boys started up the engine.
"What are you going to do next?" whispered Sam.
"We'll take a look at the side roads," replied Dick. "Maybe the touring car tried one of them and got stuck. I hope it did."
With a rush and a roar, the Dartaway sped down the highway and then arose in the air, and as it did this the men in the runabout gave a cheer and clapped their hands. Then the Rover boys continued their hunt.
They kept close to the main road and did not fly any higher than was necessary. Whenever they reached a side road Dick would make a circle, coming back to the highway and going forward. Thus they kept on until they came in sight of Plankville.
"Hark!" cried Sam, as a distant bell tolled out. "Ten o'clock!"
"Only ten o'clock!" murmured Tom. "It seems like a week since we left Brill!"
"And we haven't had supper yet," went on the youngest Rover.
"Who wants any supper?" came from Dick. "I'm sure I don't."
"Not a mouthful, until we rescue Dora and Nellie," answered Tom.
"I'd like a drink—I'm as dry as a herring," said Sam.
"We'll look for water when we go down again," answered Dick.
Presently they descended once more, and, as a brook was handy, each drank his fill. Then Dick turned back in the direction from which they had come.
"Now what?" demanded Tom.
"I'm going to find out where they went, Tom. They didn't come this far, I am sure of that."
"Because I can't find their tracks in the road. The tracks of the runabout are there and that's all. They didn't come this far. They stopped or branched off somewhere between here and that bridge the road men are repairing."
"Why can't we search the road for tracks?" asked Sam.
"Just what I am going to do. We can go down every half mile or so and look the ground over."
This was done three times, and twice they saw no tracks. Then they located them once more, about half way between the bridge and Plankville.
"Perhaps we had better follow them up on foot for awhile," suggested Dick. "They aren't in the roadway half a mile from here."
"Well, there are no side roads nearby," returned Tom. "And no houses or barns, either," he added, searching the moonlit landscape.
Lantern in hand, Dick led the way, the others following. Thus several hundred feet were covered. Then all came to a halt and stared at each other. The tracks of the touring car led from the roadway directly into a big field, backed up by what looked to be a dense woods.
"We are getting closer!" cried Dick. "Now, to put the Dartaway in a safe place and then we'll follow them on foot!"